The Britannia is a cold and noisy place. Never more so than when a
referee fails to award Stoke a goal when they claim the ball had been
over the line, condemning them to a 1-2 defeat to a Spurs side who had
the best of the first half.
during that period that they went 2-1 ahead and should have had more in
a first half that saw them control the play with Tom Huddlestone a key
figure in the middle of the field. As it was, they weathered the
expected onslaught from set-pieces which have become Stoke's trademark
and got away with it a few times.
The home team fielded their latest big
money signing - £2.5 million striker Jonathan Walters, who had been
jettisoned by Roy Keane at Ipswich. Spurs fielded a dis-jointed
team after the injuries picked up in Switzerland in mid-week, with Peter
Crouch ploughing a lone furrow up front, but he was to be a crucial
figure in the final result near the end of the match.
The game started with Spurs giving the
ball away from kick off and Stoke immediately using Walters width and
his cross was awkwardly kicked out for a corner inside the first minute
by captain Michael Dawson. The first corner of the game failed to
reach the goalmouth, with Bale heading out, but more troublesome corners
were to come later. But it was Tottenham with the first
goal-scoring opportunity of the game when Assou-Ekotto played a ball up
to Bale and Huth mis-judged it, leaving the Welshman a chance to shoot
at Sorensen. He attempted to put the ball over the top of the
Danish keeper, but got the elevation but not the direction right,
leaving the ball wide of the goal.
The first aerial problem came 13 minutes
in, as Etherington played a cross into the box and Ricardo Fuller
flicked the ball onto Rory Delap at the far post, where he hit an
instant diagonal volley that flew past the goal and ended up a couple of
yards wide. The next Stoke attack came almost immediately, with
Walters firing in a shot that bounced just in front of Gomes, who took
it well, with this following Younes Kaboul getting in the way of a shot
20 minutes had gone when Spurs took the
lead in a somewhat comical fashion. Aaron Lennon's pace was
troubling Stoke and moving from the left into a position in the right
hand channel, played a ball through to Bale, whose initial effort was
saved by Sorensen, then Crouch had a stooping header stopped by
Shawcross on the line, who kneed the ball out, but straight into the
face of Gareth Bale, taking it back past the Stoke captain and into the
net to give Spurs the lead. It was a pinball moment that showed
that at least Bale remembers Jonathan Woodgate's League Cup winning goal
However, it took only five minutes for
Stoke to bludgeon their way back into the game. A corner on the
Tottenham left came across, with Gomes going for it, but it looked like
there was some contact with Huth, leaving the keeper out of the game as
the ball was played back across by Faye to allow Fuller to hook the ball
past two Spurs defenders on the line from inside the six yard box.
It was disappointing that Tottenham allowed the home team to get back on
level pegging so quickly, as the longer a lead lasts, the more difficult
it becomes for the opposition to get back into the game.
it is a facet of the Potters game that
they get men in and around the goalkeeper for each set play. With
referees usually giving goalkeepers plenty of protection, it is playing
the law of averages that you will get away with a few if it happens
often enough and Huth in particular was always by Gomes' side when the
ball came high into the box.
But Tottenham needn't have worried, as
Bale was relishing the space he was finding behind the German defender
Huth on the left wing. Lennon again popped up in space and rather
than attack the dead ball line, he swung the ball over to Bale on the
left of the penalty area and even though the bal hung in the air at
shoulder height, our Welsh midfielder took up a great body shape to
strike a volley that went over the keeper and faded into the top right
hand corner of the net. It was a sublime strike and will surely be
one of the goals of the season (along with John Bostock's 35 yarder the
week before last for Hull).
Again, three minutes after the goal,
Spurs were almost undone, when Walters and Fuller linked for the latter
to hit a low shot from the edge of the area, which Gomes kept out well
with a low dive to his right. Tottenham had a good chance to go in
3-1 ahead, when Bale made an injury time run down the left and a low
cross to the near post was fumbled by Sorensen and Jermaine Jenas ran
in, but his follow-up was smothered by the goalie and cleared away.
With a narrow lead, there was always
going to be a spirited response from Stoke, as their manager would not
let them get away with their first half performance. However,
Spurs took the game to them in the opening minutes, using attack as the
first line of defence, but their was little threat. Playing
towards their own fans the Potters set about Tottenham in the way they
are used to. A booking for Whitehead (sent off in last season's
fixture) and one for Palacios (no surprise there) were exchanged before
Delap began doing what he does best ... lobbing the ball into the Spurs
box from throw-ins, but the defence held firm.
In the 68th minute, Gomes was allowed to
show what he can do when he hasn't got a stripy shirted player standing
on his toes. Tuncay, who was on as a sub, took aim from outside
the box and the ball took a looping deflection off Kaboul. Gomes
was outside his six yard box, but had to make a hurried retreat and his
back-pedalling allowed him to get a touch on the ball that took it over
the bar. It should not be under-estimated how good a save that
was, as going backwards and jumping up to parry the ball upwards is not
an easy task.
Corners were to prove a problem for Spurs
in this spell, with Tuncay finding space at the far post when Gomes got
underneath the cross, but the Turkish striker headed wide from close
range and then when a corner dropped in the box, Ryan Shawcross hit his
shot way too high from near the penalty spot. It was all getting a
bit frantic for Stoke and their supporters, with Gomes being quick to
get out to Tuncay when the ball came to him unexpectedly.
With seven minutes left, Lennon crossed
from the right and Gareth Bale was once more free on the left. As
Sorensen came out, Bale tried to lift the ball over the advancing
keeper, but did get enough on it and it was a comfortable save for the
Stoke goalie in the end. Stoke tried to make a change, with Sidibe
coming on after a long time out with ligament damage, only to last three
minutes before he went off with what proved to be a ruptured Achilles.
Lucky he is not.
Gomes had made a good low stop to a
fuller shot from the edge of the box earlier and in the closing stages,
Kyle Walker blocked a shot from Etherington before the moment that
decided the match occurred.
30 seconds of normal time remaining and a
Stoke Corner came in to Shawcross' head. Gomes, perhaps impeded
again with Huth's hand seeming to push him in the face, did well to
fingertip it onto the bar. The ball bounced down and Walters headed it
at goal, where Crouch played a crucial part in the match (although not
perhaps the one he might have dreamed of) in throwing himself full
length to the floor to keep the ball out with his chest. The
referee was well placed and waved play on, while the Stoke player were
going mad, pushing the referee and claiming a goal ... handball ...
anything that would have given them something from the match. They
didn't get it and the six (yes count them) minutes of added time
surprisingly passed uneventfully.
So an away win to follow the home draw
and Spurs were unlucky against City and a little lucky (although they
wouldn't have needed to be if Mr. Foy has spotted the foul on Gomes)
today. Three points is welcome in a match that is always a tough
one and one in which a Spurs of a different era might have wilted under
the pressure. A winning mentality is what Tottenham managers of
recent past have sought and now that might be coming into the players
minds as they seek to fight on four fronts this season.